This is my last article as a regular contributor to Anxious Bench. To be honest, I haven’t really contributed consistently over the past few months, but I’ve put off writing this farewell post because I was hesitant to make it official. The time has come, however, and so I thought I’d take some time to reflect on my years here at Anxious Bench.
It was Beth Barr who first recruited me in the summer of 2016. Needless to say, a lot has happened in the past five and a half years. At that time, I had just started blogging, very sporadically. One of my first forays was at the request of Oxford University Press, who asked me to promote my 2015 book A new gospel for women on their OUP blog. I wrote a brief article and found out pretty quickly that in all likelihood more people would read this post than would ever read the book itself. And, I realized that was good. While I love a good academic book, I understand that for many people reading academic monographs over 300 pages is not part of their daily routine. But I also saw that the substance of my research and writing was of real interest to people who were not academics, especially to Christian women, few of whom had pursued academic careers. So I continued to write. Sometimes just Facebook posts, sometimes blogs like Dordt’s in All Things.
When Beth invited me to join Anxious Bench, it seemed like the perfect choice. I loved the community of historians covering a wide range of topics and perspectives, all interested in exploring “the relevance of religious history for today”. My first article was a reflection on participating in the past and future of Christian feminism in light of a conference featuring women like Letha Scanzoni, Diana Butler Bass, Cherice Bock, Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Austin Channing Brown. My second message was a harbinger of what was to come. With my research assistant Katelyn Guichelaar, I published a linguistic analysis of the campaign speeches of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We uncovered a number of fascinating findings, especially comparing their rhetoric about God and faith. While Clinton spoke explicitly and reverently about her Christian faith in the speeches analyzed, Trump referred to God twice (once irreverently), while referring to himself 850 times. All of this led me to wonder why Trump was questioning white evangelicals so strongly:
Are there any insights religious historians can offer here?
For example, is there an embrace of patriarchal power in church and home-based evangelicals to seek an autocratic patriarch to lead the nation? Has a self-referential trend in contemporary Christianity blinded evangelicals to Trump’s narcissism? Have the deep roots of premillennialism made evangelicals more inclined to demonize “the Other”? Have “Christian values” long been nothing more than a veneer of racism, sexism or xenophobia? Has Christian nationalism destroyed any semblance of Christian witness?
This post went viral, garnering tens of thousands of views and resulting in dozens of media requests that spanned over a year. At the time, I can honestly say that I had no idea that I would end up writing a book exploring precisely these questions, a journey that I would end up documenting on this blog. (I wrote about Jesus and John Wayne before its release in June 2020, then reflected on its initial reception three months later. I’ve also added a follow-up reading list.)
That said, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about blogging at Anxious Bench is the wide range of topics I’ve been able to explore: history, empathy, and race in America; An open letter to the ESV translation committee; The problem of protecting our women and daughters, and (one of my favorites), Hey, John MacArthur. You have a culture. This is called white (Christian) patriarchy.
I’ve written about decluttering, about Pumpkin Spice, about why #MeToo is a Christian issue, about Christian scholarship and the definition of evangelism and more about defining evangelism. At Christmas, almost attending a Trump rally and about the Amish. And about Kierkegaard and that BBC father, and about Kate Bowler, Pete Buttigieg, Jerry Falwell Jr and Rachel Held Evans.
I had the opportunity to host good friends and colleagues such as George Marsden, Janel Kragt Baker, Jim Bratt, David Congdon, Peter Choi, Tim Gloege, Elesha Coffman, Amar Peterman, Abram Van Engen and Josh Parks. I also mourned a beloved colleague.
One of the accomplishments I’m most proud of during my tenure at Anxious Bench is the recruitment of Melissa Borja to join our ranks. My greatest debt during my time here is undoubtedly to Chris Gehrz, our intrepid blogmeister who remained infinitely happy (or at least pretended to be) every time I forgot to post, and who served model historian, Christian and scholar.
I am also grateful to the many readers who have come here week after week, year after year. It was a pleasure. And even though I’m retiring as a regular contributor, I hope to occasionally return with guest posts when inspiration strikes.
For the most part, however, my goal is to focus my writing as much as possible on my upcoming book, a cultural history of white Christian women called Live Laugh Love. If you’re curious how it goes, I’ll post occasional updates on Twitter (@kkdumez). Until then, thank you for finding me here, for all your support along the way, and for joining the conversation.